Originally published: 11.12.16
Over the past year or so I have been thinking about a story of my first and favorite dog, Lady. I don’t know where she came from but she was a constant companion to me from the time I was four until I was about seven and my family made the move from rural Nevada to rural Illinois and my parents elected to adopt her out to some family friends who owned a nearby ranch. But while she was living with us, Lady got pregnant and delivered a litter of pups. My parents sequestered her in our attached garage and informed me that under no terms was I to approach her. They made it very clear that she was an animal who had just given birth and that her instinct would be to protect her new babies. It was likely that if I went to her pen and got too close that she would bite me. I could not get myself to believe them. And so day after day I snuck into the garage to be near her and her litter. At first I simply sat next to the pen. And then I dangled my hand over the side. And then there was the day that I stepped over the side of the pen and placed myself in a corner. sitting there with all the pee soaked newspaper and the tiny floppy puppies climbing on top of one another eager to nurse. Lady did not bite me. Ever. And in those moments I learned something about approach, trust, and quiet company keeping.
But the truth is, days before that, Lady had tried to bite my father. We had come home a church gathering and she was giving birth under my bed. My father fished her out by her front leg, pulled her out from under the bed and lifted her into the air. She yelped loudly and attempted to bite him. In that moment I had learned something about terror, fast rage, vulnerability, and shame.
Two decades later I found myself thinking about those moments as I was sitting in the sunny office of my Noe Valley homeopath who had been referred to me by my therapist to complement the work we had been doing to address what was presenting itself as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is Bitch Medicine, she said. I want you to take it twice a day. It is derived from the breast milk of domesticated female dogs, bitches.
I furrowed my eyebrows at her but she continued. We associate certain traits with dogs. We think of them of man’s best friend, constantly loyal, happy companions. But there is another aspect to their domestication, especially female dogs who have been kept for breeding or have been mistreated and degraded. They carry trauma and it shows up as hypervigilance, sulky submission, shame, fear based aggression or avoidance. And if you think about it, calling girls and women bitches is an act of domination. That’s what this remedy is about. It’s for balancing out some of the ways that the domination of domestication lives in our bodies. This is the essence of the bitch’s milk, you aren’t actually ingesting fresh breast milk from a dog.
In spite of my skepticism, I liked the idea of the remedy even as it unnerved me, even if I didn’t leave that day with a tremendous amount of clarity about what the remedy was actually supposed to do. And so I took twenty tiny sugary pills under my tongue twice per day for three weeks and then on and off for the following year.
It’s been difficult to discern what impact that particular remedy had on my psyche or nervous system at the time other than giving me a certain animalistic feeling of guarding my psychic territory. And maybe that is the success of the remedy in and of itself. I do know that the idea of Bich Medicine has never really left me and maybe it’s as simple as the power of its name. Maybe it was enough to unleash a consciousness of wildness into the matrix of my own complicated impulses and seemingly trained responses – distilled as it was.
Admittedly, if I had a little Bitch Medicine on me now, I would take it, maybe every twenty minutes. It’s been a sleepless, fitful and vigilant week on top of a sleepless, fitful couple of months. More than once in the past week I have had the image of myself as a dog going around and around in circles before I could put my bones on the ground to rest and even then one ear is cocked.
These weeks since the election have had me feeling as though I am living in the high pitch vibration of a large bell that has been rung. It’s been a time of waking up with the kind of exhausted anxiety that wants to stay in bed and alternate between watching the news and Harry Potter films but would actually hate doing either. Of living in a body that was holding the hope, elation and and almost cheery certainty that the election of our first female president would publicly counter the emboldened vitriol that was being released on streets, in small towns, in comment threads on the internet. Of shock. Of being both comforted and equally discomforted by all forms of social media. Of trying to understand what my daughter understands so that I can speak to her fears but not scare her more. Of tenderness. Of cleaning house. Of looking for hope and not finding it until I heard a young person speak about resistance. Of watching my snake shed her skin. Of being numb. Of crying in my car and looking at the car next to me at the stoplight and noticing that the woman behind the wheel of that car was crying too. Of coming to a week’s end and realizing that the all of the highways of my heart and my nervous system are jammed. That I am full and empty at the same time. That I have been careening down the road of this week in the highest gear and I have become high on the remaining fumes that are left in my tank. It’s time to pull the hell over and understand that like many of my friends at the moment, I am in full trauma response.
I know that I have been about six inches behind my eyes for what feels like weeks. I feel hoarse but I have barely spoken. I’ve set alarms to eat because hunger cues have shut themselves off, and there are times when I still ignore the alarms. I am taking full study of every person I encounter everywhere. I want the quiet, easy, presence of very specific loved ones but the thought of moving in groups of people gives me the feeling of emotional and psychic windburn. I want to want to, but I just cannot.
I can afford a broken heart and a frightened faith. But I cannot afford to be exiled from my own skin. And so, this is a time for trying to remember or imagine who I am if not oriented toward a master. For climbing into the pen with the pee soaked newspaper and the messiness of new life. For recognizing the bitch who is giving birth under the bed is the same as the she-wolf lining her Den, for the gnashing of teeth in service to the dignity of both. This is a time for feeding the packs and being on a relentless hunt for justice.
Fish Without a Bicycle: I started Fish Without a Bicycle in the summer of 2013 largely as a place to collect, house and share some of the writing I was doing about the conversations that were happening in regard to women’s culture, the material reality of female experience, and the validity of female defined autonomous space. I write about what I know, from my own experience, my own skin, cells, brain and body. The work on this blog is concerned with the topics of female experience, female dignity, female voice and the female divine. twitter @_ssml tumblr: ssml-fishwithoutabicycle